ben Natronai ha-Nakdan, also known as Benedictus le Punctuer or Blessed
the Punctuator, was a Jewish scribe who lived in France at the end of
the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth centuries. Drawing from the
tales of Marie de Frane and the Latin Romulus collection (both based on
the tales of Aesop), as well as from the Persian Kalila and Dimna fables,
Berakhiah wrote his own Jewish version. His fables, called Mishlei Shualim
(Fox Fables), are recounted in biblical Hebrew and draw traditional
moral lessons for the readers instruction.
We select here two fox fables related to that oh-so-human foible
The Dog, the Cheese and the Water
What does not supply a need gives no pleasure; the
eye is not satisfied with merely looking.
Once a dog seized a piece of cheese in the house and ran with it until
he came to a bridge. Looking down into the water, he saw the reflection
of the cheese in his own mouth and thought, If only I had that cheese,
too! Two pieces are better than one.
when he opened his mouth to seize the second piece, the first fell out
and sank to the bottom of the stream. He tumbled in after it, but when
he emerged, he had nothing in his mouth but mud and weeds.
taught the wise Solomon: Be happy with what you have in your hand and
your possession, and do not envy what is anothers.
and a Lion
When the deceitful
are full of envy, each arouses hatred in the other.
Two apes once came before their king, the lion, one who coveted and one
who envied. They came before the king, each seeking a gift. Knowing how
envious they were of one another, the lion said to them, I will
give you what you ask on one condition: One of you must first whisper
his request in my ear, and the other must remain silent. I will grant
the first ones request, and then double it for the second, to reward
him for his restraint.
The first ape said to himself, I will remain silent, for that way
I will gain twice as much as my fellow. And he stood before the
king with sealed lips.
Then the second ape said in his heart, I am even more clever than
he. For I will turn his desire for gain into evil.
he leaned toward the lion and whispered in his ear, Your majesty,
honor now your vow. I wish to have one of my eyes put out.
The lion replied, So be it according to your will.
And he pierced the first apes eye with his claw, then put out both
of the other apes eyes.
And so they both received just rewards for their guile.
in The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore, Ed. Ellen
Frankel, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 1989.